Stewart moves to oust Ivey-Soto from committee post - Albuquerque Journal

Stewart moves to oust Ivey-Soto from committee post

In this file photo, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, appears on the Senate floor for the opening of the 2021 session. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart said Saturday she is removing Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto as chairman of an interim legislative committee set to meet this week, citing sexual harassment allegations against him.

She also suggested the allegations aren’t yet fully resolved – a contrast to public comments by Ivey-Soto, who said earlier this month that he was informed the investigation had ended.

In the meantime, Stewart said, she has authority to remove Ivey-Soto as chairman of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee and is appointing Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, to replace him. Its next meeting is Monday.

She also has also called on Ivey-Soto to step down from the panel he leads during formal legislative sessions – the Senate Rules Committee – though she isn’t empowered to remove him from that post unilaterally.

“Given the scope and nature of the allegations levied against Senator Ivey-Soto, it would be inappropriate for him to remain in a position of authority until the allegations are fully, fairly and transparently resolved,” Stewart said Saturday.

Ivey-Soto has denied the harassment allegations.

“Apparently, we’ve dispensed with the concept of innocent until proven guilty,” he said late Saturday.

Sen. Daniel A. Ivey-Soto

Ivey-Soto announced earlier this month that the investigation into a complaint against him had been suspended indefinitely without a determination of probable cause that would trigger public hearings. His attorney, he said, had been notified.

But precisely what happened in the investigation isn’t clear. Ivey-Soto did not waive the confidentiality rules that would allow for documents to be released, and the lobbyist who accused him of sexual harassment and abusive behavior has sued to overturn the secrecy provisions that prevent her from speaking about the case.

Stewart made the committee announcement Saturday, the same day the Senate Democratic caucus nominated her to serve two more years as president pro tem. Her position still must be confirmed by the full Senate when the session opens Jan. 17.

In Saturday’s closed-door caucus meeting, Stewart defeated Linda Lopez, a fellow Albuquerque Democrat, to win the nomination.

Senate Democrats on Saturday also reaffirmed Peter Wirth as their majority floor leader.

They voted for change, however, in two leadership positions – elevating Michael Padilla of Albuquerque to majority whip, replacing Lopez, and choosing Harold Pope Jr., also of Albuquerque, as caucus chair, succeeding Brenda McKenna.

The votes came in a caucus meeting Saturday after an unusually tense month, centering on the internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Ivey-Soto.

Stewart had called on Ivey-Soto to step down as rules committee chairman, saying some members don’t want to attend meetings he presides over. He, in turn, accused Stewart of extortion and reported her to the FBI. She denies she did anything wrong.

Stewart said Saturday the caucus is united and that she has more support than when she first ran two years ago.

“We’re trying to focus on the many needs the state has,” she told the Journal. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re going to buckle down and do it.”

Padilla, who is set to return as majority whip, once faced sexual harassment allegations, too, stemming from his tenure as supervisor of Albuquerque’s 911 call center. The city paid more than $150,000 to three women to resolve the claims.

Padilla has denied the allegations and said he hadn’t been accused of anything similar since then.

He halted a campaign for lieutenant governor in 2017, in part due to criticism about the allegations from then-Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.

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